A Kansas Republican lawmaker took what appears to be a veiled swipe at a transgender colleague, saying in an email that she does not “appreciate the huge transgender female who is now in our restrooms in the Capitol.”
State Rep. Cheryl Helmer (R-Mulvane) made the comments in an email exchange with Brenan Riffel, a University of Kansas graduate student who identifies as trans feminine and voiced opposition to a bill that Helmer is co-sponsoring, which would prevent doctors from providing gender-affirming care to transgender minors.
Riffel also criticized a bill, passed by the Republican-led legislature but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, that barred transgender students from competing in female-designated sports. The State Senate voted to override that veto on Tuesday, but faces a much tougher hurdle in the House of Representatives.
Helmer responded to the student in a lengthy email, saying she was a biology major in college and understands “the difference biologically between a male and a woman” and that no “surgeon can cut, remove, wop, add to change the biology that is chemically occurring in each and every fiber, bone and molecule of every human being.”
“A doctor can inject meds and dilute but cannot destroy what God has done in the perfection of the HUMAN BEING,” Helmer added. “Now, personally I do not appreciate the huge transgender female who is now in our restrooms in the Capitol. It is quite uncomforting. I have asked the men if they would like a woman in their restroom and they freaked out.”
Helmer’s comments appear to refer to Rep. Stephanie Byers (D-Wichita), the state’s first transgender lawmaker and the first transgender Native American elected to a state legislature in the country, who was first elected in 2020.
Helmer then claimed, in her letter to Riffel, that children are regularly and often being attacked by transgender people in bathrooms across America.
“We as women have humans that are much larger, stronger, more adrenaline and testosterone and therefore possibly more dangerous and we have to share our restrooms,” Helmer wrote. “Not only that but our wee little girls in elementary and middle and high school are having to be exposed and many have been raped, sodomized and beaten in the restrooms by these supposedly transgenders who may or may not be for real.”
Speaking with The Topeka Capital-Journal, Helmer doubled down on her comments saying: “We’ve had girls beaten up by boys that say, ‘I feel like becoming girls today. So that’s not fair either. And that’s what I was trying to come across with. But liberals don’t listen to us.”
Byers said it’s clear that Helmer was referring to her when complaining about sharing restrooms. While she noted she has received online threats on social media, she noted that the level of animus in the Capitol has been much more subtle.
“It’s always been polite,” Byers told NBC News of her face-to-face dealings with Helmer. “We’ve had genial conversations about our dogs. It’s Midwest polite everywhere in this building.”
But she also noted she’s received looks and derision from some of her colleagues, so Helmer’s comments defaming transgender people don’t shock her.
“It’s not unexpected,” she said. “People have told me these conversations are going on behind closed doors.”
Riffel said Helmer’s language may be jarring, but could be helpful in starting conversations about transgender rights.
“I wouldn’t necessarily use the word ‘appreciate,’ but it did provide us with the opportunity to say: ‘Hey this is what’s being said. This is the attitude that is causing such bills to be written,'” Riffel told NBC News. “I would rather have someone be honest with me about how they feel about me so we can engage in those conversations.”
LGBTQ Victory Fund, an organization that encourages greater LGBTQ representation in public office, condemned Helmer’s comments and called on her to resign.
“We unequivocally condemn Representative Helmer’s ugly transphobic attack against Representative Byers, a trans woman and fierce advocate for the marginalized communities who are too often the target of hate,” LGBTQ Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said in a statement.
“We call on Representative Helmer to take accountability for her hateful words and actions and immediately resign,” added Parker. “Absent that, we call on Speaker Ron Ryckman and senior leadership to take immediate disciplinary action against Representative Helmer to ensure public accountability. This is unprofessional behavior toward a colleague and should have been sanctioned by leadership already.
“Every person has a responsibility to stand up and fight the insidious wave of anti-trans attacks currently sweeping our communities,” Parker said. “Transphobia has no place in Kansas or anywhere else in our country, let alone in the highest halls of power. When political leaders further anti-LGBTQ propaganda without consequences, those leaders unwilling to speak out and demand accountability empower hate and bigotry. Such inaction has real and dire consequences for everyone in our society, particularly trans youth. Any attack against a person because of their gender identity is morally reprehensible and demands decisive sanction. Justice must be served swiftly and publicly.”
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